Thank you, Steve. Thanks to Steve’s leadership, the Intelligence Studies Project at UT-Austin has become a premier academic institution for the study of the Intelligence Community and an incubator of future leaders in the IC. Steve, I’m very grateful for your counsel and support over the years.
I also want to recognize Representative McCaul, the Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Representative McCaul has been a leader on homeland security and counterterrorism, and a champion for America’s role in the world.
President Hartzell, students and faculty members, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here in Austin! I had hoped to stand here and congratulate the Longhorns on a victory over Alabama on Saturday. And until the last minute of the game, I thought I would be able to do just that. I have to confess, as an alum of the University of Wisconsin, I was in fact rooting for the Longhorns on Saturday. But instead, I offer my deepest condolences to the Longhorn community. There’s always next week.
I’d like to begin by thanking the University for hosting such an important event. I know firsthand the quality of public servants that UT-Austin produces. To prove it, I brought a distinguished member of my team, who’s a proud Longhorn, with me today. Dr. Steve Galpern, where are you? Steve is an exceptional analyst and leader who serves as the Acting Division Chief for our Office of Middle East and North Africa. He embodies the talent I know this University produces.
I have no doubt that many of you are familiar with the State Department, but I’m less confident you’ve ever heard of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research – better known as INR. That’s okay – even in Washington, not many people have heard of INR. But since there’s a career fair on campus, I want to make a recruitment pitch for the organization I’m honored to lead.
In addition to being the Nation’s oldest civilian intelligence component – you heard that correctly, we’re celebrating our 76th anniversary this year, one year older than the CIA – there are three things that make INR unique.
First, we’re the only intelligence agency dedicated solely to supporting the Secretary of State and US diplomats worldwide. At INR, we’re on a mission “to delivery and coordinate timely, objective intelligence that advances US diplomacy.” Our motto is, “Intelligence Empowering Diplomacy,” and we work hard every day to serve US diplomats while modeling our core values of independence, integrity, teamwork, expertise, agility, innovation, and inclusivity. In a nutshell, our job is simple: making our customers smarter and better informed on the issues.
Second, we’re one of the only IC agencies who are collocated with our policy customers. Now, in the United States, there’s a bright red line between policy and intelligence, for good reason: to protect the independence and objectivity of the IC’s work. While some may view the fact that INR analysts are literally steps away from their policy counterparts as a risk to that independence, we view it differently. Our proximity and access to policymakers enables us to respond more quickly to customer feedback and gain a better sense of the policy environment, which in turn allows us to anticipate questions and produce more relevant, impactful assessments.
Third, INR provides select products and services that support not only the Department, but the larger national security community. In addition to publishing all-source analysis, INR serves as the lead IC component for analytic outreach to nongovernmental organizations, the primary US government entity for foreign public opinion polling, and the State Department’s lead for managing and coordinating intelligence policy and oversight for U.S. missions abroad. We’re also home to the geographer of the United States – or GOTUS, as we affectionately refer to him.
So if you’re considering a career in the IC, I encourage you to check out the State Department booth in the career fair, and follow us on Twitter at @StateINR.
Twenty-one years ago yesterday, September 11th, al-Qa’ida conducted the largest terrorist attack on US soil in history. In a matter of hours, thousands were killed, lives were upended. It shook our Nation to its core. The attacks were a stark reminder that no country can take its security for granted. In the years that followed, we hardened our defenses, improved intelligence sharing and collaboration, built strong partnerships and alliances overseas, and brought those responsible for 9/11 to justice. For me, a lesson from 9/11 is that security is not a birthright. It’s only thanks to the sacrifices and contributions of public servants of all stripes – our men and women in uniform, intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security officers, and US diplomats – that we have not experienced another large-scale attack on the US Homeland.
Now, like many of my fellow Americans, 9/11 was a turning point. I decided to pursue a career in national security to help prevent another attack. I realize that most students here today were born after 9/11, and the events of that horrific day may not resonate with you like they did with me. But regardless of where you are in your career, the message I want to leave you with is this: America’s response to 9/11 is a poignant reminder of the value and importance of public service. And whatever inspires you to serve, whatever your calling is – be it preventing another pandemic, cybersecurity, countering weapons of mass destruction – we will need your talents, expertise, and ingenuity to prevail in the 21st century. I sincerely hope you’ll consider a career in public service. It is, as President George H.W. Bush once said, a “noble calling.”
Two decades after 9/11, we are at an inflection point in history. The return of great power competition is upon us. We see this in President Putin’s brutal and unprovoked further invasion of Ukraine. We see it in the multidimensional challenge posed by the People’s Republic of China, and the threat the PRC poses to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. As President Biden has said, we are amid a “great battle for freedom: a battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.” Meanwhile, the digital revolution, climate change, terrorism, and infectious diseases remind us that the challenges we face are unconstrained by borders.
At INR, we’re focused on providing strategic insights and analysis to help diplomats navigate a turbulent and unpredictable global landscape in the coming years. Today, I want to talk about the four big trends that will shape how intelligence supports diplomacy in the years ahead: the revolution in open-source intelligence, countering disinformation, technological innovation, and investing in diversity and inclusion.
For years, people have equated open-source intelligence, or OSINT as it’s called, with what you read in foreign newspapers, saw on television, or heard on the radio. For these reasons, OSINT has never been viewed on par with traditional sources of intelligence – recruiting human sources, intercepting communications, or overhead imagery. OSINT simply wasn’t viewed a “secret” to be acquired, which therefore reduced its attractiveness.
In recent years, however, new technologies like artificial intelligence and commercial sector tools have enabled citizens around the world to exploit, process, analyze, and report on information and breaking events in near real-time. In Ukraine, we’ve seen the power of OSINT in holding Russia accountable for its heinous attacks on civilians. Last month, for example, a report from Yale University’s Humanitarian Research Lab, which the State Department supports, documented in vivid detail evidence of Russian-perpetrated filtration operations in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast. The report was based entirely on unclassified, open sources derived from satellite imagery, social media, and firsthand accounts.
The improved quality of open-source reports like this one has in turn resulted in greater demand for OSINT among the IC’s traditional customer base – from policymakers in Washington to military commanders and diplomats overseas. The appetite for OSINT products is only growing. That’s why, in INR, we’re embracing OSINT and reimagining not only how we acquire and use open-source intelligence to inform our analysis, but how we can produce unclassified assessments based entirely on OSINT, while adhering to the IC’s superior analytic tradecraft and production standards. Generating assessments at the unclassified level in the future will also allow us to expand our customer base and engage with a broader set of stakeholders – from academic institutions like UT-Austin to tech companies, NGOs, and – most importantly – the American people, our most important customer.
Of course, harnessing the power and potential of OSINT and creating new unclassified product lines is easier said than done. Several important questions still need to be addressed before we can realize the true potential of OSINT. Questions like: How do you evaluate the veracity and credibility of open source reporting? How do you assign and communicate confidence levels in analysis based solely on OSINT? Should OSINT be its own intelligence discipline, like human and signals intelligence? How do you ensure that analytic knowledge obtained through classified sources doesn’t creep into unclassified assessments? These are all important, weighty questions.
To work through these issues, we established an Open Source Coordination Unit in INR earlier this year. This unit will focus on creating the governance, training, and organizational structures necessary to provide our officers with the tools and resources needed to optimize the use of OSINT and create new unclassified products that are consistent with IC security directives and tradecraft.
How we use OSINT will also be key to the second big trend that will shape how intelligence supports diplomacy: countering the pernicious threat of disinformation.
This threat is not new. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union made “active measures,” which are essentially foreign influence and information operations, the centerpiece of its efforts to expand Communist ideology and influence around the world. What’s new today is the scope, sophistication, and magnitude of the threat, all enabled by the digital revolution.
Last year, the National Intelligence Council warned that, “Both internal and external actors are increasingly manipulating digital information and spreading disinformation to shape public views and achieve political objectives.” One needs to look no further than Russia’s influence campaign in the 2016 US presidential election, China’s false claims that the United States created the COVID-19 virus, and Russia’s prolific use of disinformation and outright lies regarding their further invasion of Ukraine.
The ease with which malicious actors can exploit social media and new technologies to conduct disinformation campaigns at scale and relatively low-cost means this will be an enduring threat. The good news is that we know how to minimize its effects: enhancing public awareness, quickly exposing and debunking influence campaigns, and building resilient communities. Intelligence will play an key role in identifying, exposing, and – as appropriate – sharing intelligence with foreign partners and the American people regarding foreign disinformation campaigns.
In Ukraine, we’ve seen the value of strategically downgrading and declassifying intelligence to expose Russia’s lies and nefarious plans. As other actors, including China, Iran, and cybercriminals, increasingly use influence campaigns – from election interference to trying to shape US policy – we need to be able to arm our diplomats and policymakers with credible information on these activities so they can engage partners and allies and warn the public.
In INR, we’re preparing to meet the growing demand for downgrading and declassifying intelligence by hiring more officers to process intelligence sharing and disclosure requests. On topics like Russia, China, and North Korea, we’re encouraging our analysts to write at the lowest classification level possible – what we call “writing for release” – to make the assessments available to the widest number of cleared partners and allies. We’re also looking for opportunities to downgrade and declassify intelligence assessments to support diplomatic engagements and initiatives. Just last week, INR released – for the first time – a declassified intelligence assessment of Russia’s plans to hold sham referenda elections in occupied Ukrainian territory. We intend to declassify and publicly release more assessments in the future.
I want to acknowledge that the concept of “intelligence diplomacy” is not without risk or its detractors. As someone who began their career in the IC, I know that protecting sources and methods must always be the highest consideration in these decisions. There will never be a one-size fits all approach. I also realize the IC’s credibility is at stake every time we publicly release a report or piece of sensitive information. The reality is that we won’t get it right every time. But I believe we can maintain the IC’s credibility – with the American people and the world – by acknowledging when we get it wrong and correcting the record expeditiously. If we’re to succeed in pushing back against foreign disinformation, we’ll need to be more creative and more comfortable with sharing and declassifying intelligence to expose and disrupt these activities.
The third big trend that will shape how intelligence supports diplomacy is technological innovation. Secretary Blinken has said that when it comes to cyberspace and emerging technologies, we have a major stake in shaping the digital revolution and making sure that it serves our people, protects our interests, boosts our competitiveness, and upholds our values. In INR, we have a sacred responsibility to safeguard the Department’s Top Secret network, which we own and operate. We’re committed to making sure our technology works for democracy and serves our diplomatic corps, helping to counter disinformation, ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility of the sensitive data on our network, and being able to deliver classified information quickly and securely to diplomats at home and abroad, whenever and wherever they need it.
For too long, technology innovation has been an afterthought in INR. We accepted “good enough” solutions. While this approach may have worked in the past, it’s unsustainable in a hyperconnected, digital world where the speed of diplomacy moves in real-time. That’s why we’ve embarked on a digital transformation as part of INR’s 2025 Strategic Plan. We’re making technology central to INR’s future and reimagining how we use technology to drive mission and business imperatives. This includes going all-in on the cloud by taking advantage of the IC’s Commercial Cloud Enterprises Contract. To expand access to classified information to diplomats overseas, we’re rearchitecting the classified computing environments for the field to be more modern, flexible, accessible, and secure.
At the same time, we know that executing a digital transformation requires more than upgrading technology. It requires fundamentally changing how you think about and use technology so it becomes an accelerant for your strategy. That’s why a big part of our approach has focused on establishing best-in-class governance practices to manage risk responsibly and integrate our technology leaders into business strategy and decisions. Over the last year, we established an Information Technology Governance Board, created Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Information Security Officer positions, and elevated the CIO’s stature by making it a direct report to me as the Assistant Secretary.
I’m under no illusion how long this digital transformation will take – it will be a multi-year journey. But we have no choice. To modernize how we deliver intelligence to support diplomacy, we’re going to need to think and act more like a tech company than a traditional IT office.
Finally, we cannot have a conversation about innovation and creativity without addressing diversity. Not just in race, gender, or sexual orientation – all of which are important – but also diversity of experience, viewpoint, and skillset.
As DNI Haines has said, “Promoting diversity – ensuring that we reflect the country we serve – is a responsibility we carry as public servants.” In the IC and in the State Department, we know that diversity is essential not only to our national security mission, but to our values and who we are as Americans.
When it comes to intelligence, diversity of views and perspectives is vital to guarding against confirmation bias and group think and encouraging dissent and independent thought. INR has a long tradition of independence, and I’m proud to lead a workforce that was the only IC agency to dissent on the 2002 Iraq WMD assessment. But our ability to provide unique, value-added perspectives moving forward will depend on having a team with diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, and knowledge to look at data differently, offer alternative views, and challenge conventional wisdom. We’re going to continue to need experts on issues like China, Russia, the
Middle East, and terrorism, but we’re also going to need more scientists, more climate experts, more computer engineers, and more infectious disease specialists.
In INR, we’ve made Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility – DEIA – a core pillar of our strategic plan. We created a new DEIA Senior Advisor role by led by Laurel Heflin, who’s here with me today. We rolled out a DEIA Strategy and established a Leadership Council to drive progress and hold me and my leadership team accountable for results. We’re using data and analytics to better understand workforce demographics and where we need to improve to realize our vision. And last but not least, we’re reorienting our recruitment and outreach activities to focus on attracting talent from a more diverse network of universities and communities throughout the country. Which is why we’re in Austin today.
So those are the four big trends that will shape intelligence support to diplomacy: the revolution in open-source intelligence, countering disinformation with intelligence diplomacy, technological innovation, and investing in diversity and inclusion.
Let me end where I began. At this moment in history, we are engaged in a defining struggle between democracy and autocracy around the world. To meet this moment of advancing authoritarianism, the United States is leading with diplomacy. Ultimately, for diplomacy to be effective, it needs to be informed by the best intelligence and insights available to deliver what we refer to as “diplomatic decision advantage.” For the students here today, the IC and the State Department will need your expertise, skills, and service to meet these challenges. The UT motto is, “What starts here changes the world.” I hope you’ll consider a career in national security – and perhaps one in INR – to change the world moving forward.
Thank you. And Hook ‘em Horns!